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No analogy is perfect, but understanding events unfolding in Tunisia requires a look at the past. And present.

Does Tunisia have someone to play the role King Juan Carlos played? (Spain archive)

Ten days after the fall of President Ben Ali, the historical comparisons are being trotted out to explain the "Tunisian revolution" and its possible impact on the entire region. Are we in Gdansk, Poland in 1980, where the spark that just lit up Tunisia is destined to unleash a rolling political revolution across the Arab world in the coming months or years? Or is it Romania in the aftermath of Ceausescu's fall in 1989, with the coup d"état already taken over by the authorities on the ground? Do these explicit references to the liberation of central and eastern Europe, made by a number of Arab intellectuals, really have meaning? What would be the true equivalent for the Arab world today for what was then the "Soviet stick" or the "European carrot" applied to half a continent held hostage?

Perhaps there is a more apt comparison to the south rather than the east of Europe? Has the Tunisian regime, by opening itself up to the world through tourism and an emphasis placed on education and the women's rights, and the creation of a vibrant middle class, mirrored what Spain did in the 1960s under the Franco government?

In this case, would a civil society be truly ready to take over an autocratic regime once it is overthrown? Who would play the equivalent role for Tunisia that the King played in Spain? What might be the symbol of the continuity of the state and the unity of his nation? If it is justified, the comparison with the emergence from Francoist state would clearly separate Tunisia from the situation in Egypt, where a Spanish-style civil society does not exist.

One could go on and on citing historical references or geographical analogies, all of which contain a grain of truth, but fail to sum up the unique case of Tunisia. It would certainly be optimistic to consider the fall of President Ben Ali as the equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it would be imprudent not to acknowledge that there will be a before and after the "Jasmine Revolution," both in Tunisia, and the entire Arab world.

Images of Tunisians slashing portraits of the deposed dictator have been seen around the world. This time, it wasn't American soldiers who put their flag on the fallen statue of Saddam Hussein, but unarmed Arab citizens who fought for their own freedom and dignity.

In reality, following the Tunisian revolution, the Arab world can consider two political experiments already underway in Muslim countries, neither of which is Arab: the Turkish and the Iranian models.

If challenges to ruling regimes spread to other countries in the region, how many would be tempted by the Turkish-style opening up and how many by Iranian fundamentalism? Nuance should certainly be incorporated into this simplistic dichotomy. There are shades of gray in the current Turkish experience and its version of moderate Islam, while beyond the mullahs, some reason to hope is built into the vibrant character of Iranian society.

Between these two alternate models, the West clearly prefers Turkey over Iran. As much as a quasi-consensus exists today to keep a reasonable distance between Turkey and the EU, there is an equal desire for Turkey to play a stabilizing role in a changing and potentially messy Arab world.

History may not repeat itself, but wouldn't a neo-Ottoman order provide a better alternative to chaos in the Arab world? The role of Turkey, as led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expanding across the region, its image reinforced in the Arab street following Erdogan's clear stand last year on Israel's intervention of the flotilla en route to Gaza? Being popular is one thing; serving as a model is another.

Dominique Moïsi is a special adviser to IFRI (the French Institute for International Relations).

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